Penn State Swimming Journal From Japan
Aug. 23, 2007
Penn State head swimming coach Bill Dorenkott and swimmers Kaitlin O'Brien and Pat Schirk are in Japan this week for an international swimming meet. The three of them will be writing a journal for their entire week-long stay in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Entry 1 - Sunday, August 20
It is Sunday morning in Chiba, Japan which is an hour train ride outside of Tokyo. This means it is 13 hours earlier back in State College and my family is just getting ready for bed. Patrick Schirk, Kaitlin O'Brien and myself left State College Thursday morning and after a 13 hour flight from Washington DC to Tokyo we were on the other side of the world. Our flight took us over the top of the world crossing the Bering Sea and enjoying sunshine the entire flight.
The flight itself was not bad as six of the US team were on our flight so we were able to catch up and chat. When I looked around during the flight, the majority of team members were reading, sleeping or watching one of the many movie offerings. The entire team assembled in the Tokyo airport arriving from Washington, Chicago, San Francisco and LA. We had dedicated shuttles to the host hotel and arrived early on Friday evening. After a quick trip to the pool to loosen, we headed back to the hotel, ate and got to bed. Jet lag was not bad but the team was pretty whipped by bedtime.
We had a staff meeting prior to bed and it was difficult to stay focused after being up in excess of 24 hours straight. Fortunately, everyone was in the same boat and a little punchy as we went through the meeting. My roommate for the trip is Paul Yetter who is the head coach of North Baltimore Aquatic Club and also Katie Hoff's coach. We had a little excitement the first night as an earthquake of over 5 on the richter scale hit Tokyo around 4am. I hopped out of bed having never experienced an earthquake while Paul slept right through it. He said he did not even feel it when asked the next morning. It was the main topic of conversation at breakfast the next morning.
Our hotel is beautiful and considered 5 star here in Japan. All of the teams from around the world are staying here so it should be enjoyable interacting with the different coaches and athletes. The food is excellent with buffet-style meals in a large banquet hall where all of the teams eat together. Our hosts for the meet could not be more gracious and are really making the athletes feel special. I have been on some US Teams where the lodging and meals were not even close to this so, hopefully the team realizes that not all National Team trips are this nice.
The team is comprised of over 50 athletes who made a qualifying criteria which was based on equalling/surpassing the 6th place time from 2006 Nationals and not having been on the US World Champs, Pan Am or WUG's teams. Originally, the thought was that 20 or so, athletes would make the standard. Instead, the US Nationals turned into one of the deepest in recent memory with a slew of newcomers serving notice that they would be players heading into an all important Olympic year. The staff divied up the athletes into groups of 10 or so. I am working with Patrick, Kaitlin and a group of breaststrokers. One of the best parts of working on a National Team staff is interacting with a diverse group of talented and hungry athletes from a bunch of different backgrounds.
The meet begins on Tuesday and runs for four days. The Aussie's and Japanese have their A teams here so the competition will be very good. We have spent the past day and a half heading over to the facility loosening, pacing and getting ready to race. Patrick has his first race on Wednesday in the 100 back and Kaitlin starts on Tuesday with the 400 IM. Both looked good this morning on some pace. I am looking forward to seeing some great racing over the next week...Go USA!
Entry 2 - Tuesday, August 21
It is a little after 6am here in Chiba on the first morning of competition and I am ready for the meet to get started. Each day as we have gotten closer to the meet the team has gelled a little more and preparations have become sharper and more focused. Prelims begin at 10am with finals starting at 5:40pm. There are some limitations on how many athletes from each country can race at night. We are limited to no more than 3 from the USA total in any combination of the consols and finals. So, not only are you racing the rest of the world but also your teammates for a spot at night.
Last night was a fun night for Team USA with the announcement of captains as well as the Rookie Team Skits. The captains for the trip were voted on by their teammates and are David Cromwell and Nick Brunelli for the men and Rachael Komisarz for the women. I was unable to watch the skits as both Brian Schraeder and myself were nominated by the staff to serve as the USA representatives at the welcome reception for the meet. It was a nice reception with media representatives, corporate sponsors, government officials, FINA vip's and each of the 39 countries staff members. Reports from those at the skits were that they were unbelievably funny and we may have some future thespians in our midst.
Yesterday during afternoon warm ups I had a special observation as I watched many first time National Team members put on their personalized USA swimcaps for the very first time. It was obvious that there was a great deal of pride as they put on the American flag with their last name in bold black all capitalized letters. It is the same cap worn by countless National Team members before and one that comes with high hopes and expectations. I think some guys who never wear caps even put them on but I did not ask.
Kaitlin gets started this morning with the 400 IM which is the first event of the meet. We did a little light pace work last night and she looked fine. We are definitely at the tail end of a long taper and emotion/pride are going to be key ingredients to this morninigs swim. One of the great things about both Kaitlin and Patrick are that they love to race regardless of the meet or competition. Off to breakfast then the meet...GO USA!
Entry 3 - Thursday, August 23
Prelims of day three start in about four hours. The United States has had a very good two days of racing and we are looking to finish up in style. It has been exciting watching many new faces take advantage of their first national team experience. Our team has certainly been a presence at the meet from both an enthusiasm and competitive standpoint. We have the largest contingent at the meet and talked to the squad about the power of numbers.
Our Penn Stater's have represented themselves and the Nittany Lion Nation well in their first two swims. Kaitlin O'Brien got it started on day one with a 10th place finish in the 400 IM with a time of 4:46.6 which was just off of her 4:46.1 at US Nationals. Prior to this summer Kaitlin had never been under 4:50 in the IM so it was a significant breakthrough for her. In one of my last posts I said that pride/emotion would get her going in the swim....I could not have been more incorrect. Her prelim swim was a train wreck as she got too excited and went out in a ltb in the fly and over two seconds faster at the 200 mark than she had ever been previously. She died hard coming home having paid the price for getting excited going a time of 4:49 in prelims. Post race she registered over 13 on her blood lactate work and threw up three times. In the two years we have worked together, I have never seen her lactate above 10 in her races and she usually recovers in 20 minutes. It took her almost an hour to clear her system after her morning swim. We talked about going out much more conservatively and getting home strong in finals. She went out close to 4 seconds slower at the 200 mark and ended up 3 seconds faster overall with a much better executed race. Needless to say, her lactate levels were lower, she recovered quickly and she was smiling as a result of a solid swim. Kaitlin had yesterday off and will swim the 200 breast this morning
Patrick swam prelims of day two in the 100 backstroke posting a 12th place effort of 55.4. This was a solid swim and much more controlled than his swims at Nationals. Patrick is unbelievably talented and still learning when it comes to tempo and how it relates to his swims. He has a tendency to spin his wheels. Given his current strength levels and body type it makes more sense to settle his stroke down and hold on to it longer. I spoke to Patrick at Nationals and encouraged him to look at the long run and 2012 as I truly believe he has the ability to be the best in the world in his events. Only the top 3 Americans advanced to finals with Pat being the 5th fastest he watched finals. Patrick has the 200 back this morning whick is arguably his best event. I believe with a commitment to fitness and strength that Patrick's 100 and 200 will be pretty even in the next few years.
On a different note, the weather to this point has been hot and seriously humid. Yesterday the wind really started to pick up and this morning we awoke to a light drizzle. We will not have chance to see much of the surrounding city as the trip is short and focused on business...which means a cycle of eat...sleep...swim and repeat. I have found the people of Japan to be unbelievably friendly and sincerely interested in showing off their city and culture. If I get a chance to walk around the hotel between prelims and finals there is always someone to offer a smile or quick hello. My limited command of the Japanese language has me a little hesitant to say anything for fear of using the wrong word or syntax and insulting someone. Off to prelims...Go USA!